Pahala residents hear sewer financing options

  • This map shows properties that will be connected to a new wastewater treatment plan in Pahala. Courtesy of Hawaii County.

The head of Hawaii County’s Department of Environmental Management met with Pahala residents Thursday evening to present options for financing mandated sewer hookups that will cost some homeowners thousands of dollars each.

The options include federal loans and grants through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S Department of Agriculture for low-income households.

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“The county is not oblivious that this is painful,” department Director Bill Kucharski said to about 40 people present at the Pahala Community Center. “This is not the end; this is the beginning,” he added, regarding efforts to find financial aid.

The county is planning wastewater treatment plants for Pahala and Naalehu to close gang cesspools, previously owned by C. Brewer, as mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As part of an agreement between the county, which took over the gang cesspools in 2010, and the former sugar plantation company, residents who are hooked up to the large-capacity cesspools won’t have to pay for their connections to the new sewer.

However, the county code requires anyone with property along the path of sewer lines to connect at their own expense. In Pahala and Naalehu, about 66 residences or businesses in both communities that are not on the gang cesspools will have to pay for their connections, which Kucharksi said could be anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000 each.

The federal programs could provide grants for those who qualify up to $7,500, in addition to loans with interest of 1 to 3 percent.

Pahala resident Liz Polido said she is one of the property owners who would have to foot the bill. While she recognized the county was trying to help, she still felt burdened by the cost.

“We have to take a loan,” Polido said. “It’s a hardship on everybody.”

Pahala resident Moses Espaniola told Kucharski that the county should pay for everyone’s expense.

The director said he can’t do that without action by the County Council.

“I can’t tell you I will find a solution,” he said. “I can only tell you that I’m looking for one. The county is picking up as much of the load that it can.”

Cost estimates, which are not based on a design, for the projects are between $40 million and $50 million each, Kucharski said.

In Pahala, about 110 homes are on the gang cesspools. In Naalehu, that number is about 163.

EPA has mandated the gang cesspools in Pahala are closed by 2021 and in Naalehu by 2022.

Kucharski also mentioned a bill in the state Legislature that would provide low-interest loans to property owners that close a cesspool. The state is mandating that all cesspools be closed by 2050. But the measure — Senate Bill 221 — appears to be dead as it wasn’t heard by the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee by Friday.

Rep. Nicole Lowen, who chairs the committee, said it wasn’t given a hearing because a cesspool working group is currently studying the issue and is expected to provide recommendations ahead of next legislative session. There also were concerns with how the program would be financed.

She said there is a program that provides tax credits for those who close a cesspool. Lowen, D-Kailua-Kona, said that program is run through the state Department of Health.

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DOH estimates there are 88,000 cesspools in the state, with about 50,000 on Hawaii Island.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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